European Parliament: Three MEPs caught in lobby sting
21 March 2011
“Euro MPs exposed in ‘cash-for-laws’ scandal,” headlined the Sunday Times in its 20 March edition. In disclosures likely “to unleash one of the biggest scandals in the parliament’s 53-year history” the Times has revealed that three MEPs – including a former Romanian deputy prime minister – had agreed to payments from reporters posing as lobbyists. During an eight month investigation, the journalists contacted over 60 MEPs asking whether they would be interested in taking on paid roles as “advisers”. 14 MEPs rose to the bait, and three – Adrian Severin, ex Romanian deputy PM, Zoran Thaler, former Slovenian foreign minister and Ernst Strasser, former interior minister in Austria – agreed to table amendments to the Deposit Guarantee Schemes directive. The amendments to a directive intended to protect customer deposits against bank collapses now appear in the parliament’s official documents just as the fake lobbyists had written them. The MEPs, who already earn €200K+ salary, along with non-receipted allowances, believed they would be receiving a €100,000 annual salary, a consultancy fee or both, for their work.
“Strasser threatened with criminal proceedings,” headlines Vienna daily Die Presse, after the former interior minister stepped down in the wake of London weekly’s revelations. Strasser argues that he has done “nothing wrong” and stresses he wished only to prevent "damage" to Austria's coalition government. He also claims that he had suspected foreign intelligence behind the action and continued to meet with them, "to get to those behind." However, as the Sunday Times notes, Strasser has also said to the undercover reporters, that a lobbyist “has some special smell. It’s true to be said I am myself something like that. So we have to be very careful.” “Where did Adrian Severin go wrong?” wonders Gândul. Reminding readers that Severin had launched an anti-corruption crusade on joining the European Parliament in 2007, the Bucharest daily quotes him as arguing that he has done “nothing illegal”, and his services were “not lobbying, but consultancy.” The Sunday Times notes that Severin emailed the reporters saying: “Just to let you know that the amendment desired by you has been tabled in due time.” Then sent an invoice for €12,000 for “consulting services concerning the codification of the Directive 94/19/EC, Directive 2009/14/EC and the amendments thereto”.